Monday, 22 February 2016 16:35

The Wolverine remains an enigma in Alberta (video, audio) Featured

Written by Michael Short
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Wolverine in a runpole Wolverine in a runpole ACA Photo

It’s been said our natural habitat areas are shrinking at an alarming rate, and there is certainly enough scientific evidence to back that statement up. Our cities continue to expand, Oil and Gas exploration along with Forestry probe deeper into the wilderness, and along with the opening of the backcountry come the recreationalists, so finding pristine untouched wilderness in Alberta is about as rare as seeing a mosquito in January.

Still, there is an animal that remains an enigma, rarely seen yet has a reputation for such tenacity its name has become connected with a popular Marvel comic book … the Wolverine.

The Wolverine (the animal, not the superhero) is the largest member of the Weasel family and has a reputation for ferocity and strength out of proportion to its size, with the documented ability to kill prey many times larger than itself. The creature is often referred to as a phantom and has taken down even animals as large as a moose that become immobilized by heavy snow.

Tracking begins

Back in 2011 the Alberta Conservation Association started to look how it might approach the process of determining the number of Wolverine and their range in Alberta. Biologist Robert Anderson has been on the project from the beginning.

ACA Biologist Robert Anderson - Photo: Michael Short

ACA Biologist Robert Anderson (Photo: Michael Short)

Anderson Audio

Indeed, the Alberta Trappers Association has taken a leadership role in the project. Their knowledge and skills play a vital role to ensure an accurate result when it comes to getting an understanding of the numbers and territory of the Wolverine. Trappers have been maintaining some 40 to 50 monitoring stations across the province.

Mike Jokinen (ACA) and Neil Kimmy (Alberta Trappers’ Association)

Mike Jokinen (ACA) and Neil Kimmy (Alberta Trappers’ Association) check one of the camera sites and collect hair samples left by a recent visitor.  (Photo: Shevenell Web)

Anderson Audio

Research has lead to some surprises

As this study got underway there was a feeling among the scientists it would be remote regions of the province that would offer the best opportunities to collect data on the wolverine, far away from any oil and gas or forestry development. This lead researcher to think the high alpine forests of the Rockies would be prime locations, as it turns out this is not necessarily the case.

Anderson Audio

There have been some other unintended benefits to this study as well. Alberta Environment and Parks is not only interested in the Wolverine data but other animals that have been recorded while visiting the monitoring stations. Lynx, Fisher and Marten are just a few of the additional fur bearing species that new data is being collected and analyzed.

Industry and Recreational access

Wolverine entering runpole #5

It can’t be overstated the importance this study will have when it comes to land management. The information that is being collected is of course going to shed light in terms of where and how many Wolverines are living in our province.

This data will also be useful when it comes to providing the legal status of this animal in terms of being one of endangered, threatened, of special concern, or not at risk.

Boreal forest snowmobile ride

Robert Anderson pushes deep into the Boreal forest along a trap line to help set up some of the bait and camera sites

Trappers and government biologists will also have the information they need in terms of being able to set quota’s on the animal and continue to provide the fur management roll required to keep population numbers of fur bearing animals’ in a productive and sustainable state.

Industry will also require the data. If we know where and how many wolverine live in a specific area what level of protection is required to ensure it’s habitat remains in tact.

Anderson Audio

As the backcountry is opened up by industrial developments recreational use is quick to follow. Knowing where sensitive wolverine habitat is located will allow wildlife and land managers to limit access and hopefully create enough a buffer so that the Wolverine can not only survive but thrive.

How to Trap a Wolverine

Here is a look at the cooperative approach Alberta Trappers and the Alberta Conservation Association are taking to better understand the range and population of Wolverines.

Wolverine Documentary on Nature of Things

Andrew Manske

Alberta’s long-anticipated wolverine film will air Thursday February 25 on the Nature of Things. The ACA is featured prominently in the film (Mark Boyce, Matt Scrafford), by providing the research component to the filmmaker Andrew Manske’s personal quest to film the animals. ACA board member/ ATA past president Brian Bildson was also very heavily involved in many, many areas of the film.  

Interview with filmmaker Andrew Manske (Audio)


Bonus Wolverine video from night vision trail cameras

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